It’s Yom Kippur, and I’m fasting. Fasting is a big part of the holiday, along with prayer, reflection, forgiveness, and tradition. I am not setting out to explain all aspects of this holiday at this moment; if I did, no doubt I would offend the more observant by omitting some important fact or detail. And people do get so touchy about religious things. One of my friends claimed that all bets were off for his observance this year, because we had attended a service that used electricity for its music, that we’d driven in a car after the service, and that we (purchased and) drank soda water. On Yom Kippur, there is to be the cessation of all of these “worldly” pursuits, while one reflects on wrongdoings of the past year, and hopes for forgiveness and continued life for yet another year. Hence the (English translation of) the phrase, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life…”
In recent years, I have attended services at a congregation that meets at a church in Koreatown. I meet friends there, or sometimes go together, but it is always a schlep to get there, sometimes a hassle with the parking, and since I have this thing about taking the opportunity to eat Korean food before and/or after the fast, I find myself always getting to services late. Sometimes I manage to show up for part of them, sometimes I skip the services altogether. Still, I do observe. My staunch rules generally are: no eating, no work, no shopping or spending of money. According to my research, conducted when my school district decided to alter a more than half-century tradition of observing Yom Kippur as a district-wide “local holiday” in favor of the day BEFORE Thanksgiving (this happened beyond my control, and will remain a sticking point of egregious consternation with me forever), ours is the ONLY religion that demands total austerity and cessation of work and food intake on this day. In Israel, I understand, everything stops; you can apparently take strolls on six-lane highways.
But fasting, at least, is somehow approachable, something anyone can do. My kids, even, usually try to do this much. One year, we went ahead with a trip I’d planned, renting a mansion in Paso Robles with friends and family, not realizing it was going to be Yom Kippur. My boys and I upheld our past, and, believe me, it was hard, with the others eating gourmet food and drinking local wine country selections with abandon, right in front of us. My boyfriend at the time, who’d joined us, was an observant Catholic. He decided to support us, and fast as well. Although I believe he did it altruistically, I felt more loved by this single act of his than any other sign of affection I’d received from him in what had been a four-year relationship.
When you fast, you also appreciate food so much more when you finally eat it. Your taste buds are primed and ready, and it is as if each bite is a color that can be seen more brilliantly, or a sound that can be heard more clearly. I’d better get off this part of the topic; I still have two more hours to go before eating!
Not eating even when hungry shows fortitude, and solidarity with my brethren around the world who are likewise fasting. Many world religions recommend some form of abstinence in order to enter the spirituality zone. As I know from both my weight loss journey, and various relationship escapades, making conscious decisions about self-control grows you stronger. I recall a time when I saw a guy hold back another guy’s arm from dipping and eating yet another chip at a party. He said, “show some restraint.” This resonated with me, even though I am not an expert at showing restraint at all. I ponder that comment sometimes, however. Like, WHY must one show restraint?
One reason to hold back is that others might want a piece of the stuff you are pursuing so ferociously! The Japanese are very good at taking modest portions and ceding to allow others access, I’ve noticed over the years. They tend to look over a shoulder, see if somebody is trying to pass, or get ahead, and yielding. One of the banes of my existence in my Israeli dance community is the lack of restraint, ceding or yielding shown by women who are intent on grabbing for the fewer-in-number male partners. I do my share of booking ahead myself, to ensure that I will be able to dance an evening through with competent and pleasant enough partners. But I tire of the competitive, covetous and positively feverish attitude one must acquire in the quest for male partners. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to just show up at a place, ready to dance, and let oneself go with the flow and serendipity of not knowing who you’re going to meet, kind of like Maria and Tony showing up at the “dance at the gym” and being drawn to each other, in spite of Capulets-Montague divides. This can and does happen sometimes at our Israeli and other dance venues, and the excitement of not knowing exactly who us liable to show up each time is as much of a draw to drag oneself out and go as the nights when one has a pre-arranged all-evening commitment.
Another great thing about not eating, not buying food, not preparing food, not cleaning up after food, is that you gain extra time. Some of us also spend time planning meals, and some of us accounting for what we’ve eaten in writing, another weight loss tactic. All of this takes time. So it feels like I gain tons of extra time when I fast this one day of the year. I’m always looking for extra time to write, so, here I am, writing. And, speaking of writing, may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year, too.